The Best Education Advice I’ve Never Received
A new school year has begun in most parts of the country. And since September 11, 2001, the start of the school year also provides a poignant reminder of freedom, democracy, and all that we hold dear. While it is true that the educational system in our country is in need of improvement in many areas, we can’t ignore the fact that few places on Earth provide the freedom to pursue the number and variety of educational and professional opportunities we have here in the United States.
Whether this marks the start of your first or final semester, the beginning of a new academic year can bring on a case of the butterflies (or worse). Many students experience anxiety and stress about their educational path and future job prospects. After more than a decade’s worth of experience in higher ed – and my own learning adventures – I have two pieces of advice that you aren’t likely to get from your education officers or even from your family.
Don’t be a follower.
You’ve probably been told by many well-wishing people “follow your passion.” Or, “follow your heart and the rest will fall into place.” Although it sounds wonderful, this kind of advice is better suited for relationships than for your education and future work.
In today’s economy, simply doing what feels good isn’t a sustainable practice – it can lead to frustration, accumulating debt, and a string of broken dreams. Plus, if you’re a working adult with a family to support while you go to school, you have responsibilities that you can’t simply shirk to follow your own interests.
Instead – bring your passion with you. Whatever you do, give it 110%. Find something to love about whatever you’re doing and give it all you’ve got. Look for the opportunity to share your passion with others and leave your own unique mark.
Strive for harmony, not balance.
“Work/Life balance,” as blissfully ideal as it sounds, is something that everyone seeks but few accomplish. It’s an incredibly popular topic that has everyone from CEOs to bloggers weighing in with their opinions and ‘how-to’s.’
Be careful about setting yourself up to achieve someone else’s idea of a balanced life. What works for them may not work for anyone else. Struggling to achieve an unrealistic ideal adds unnecessary (unhealthy) pressure.
What I would propose instead, is to strive for harmony as opposed to balance. Think about those televised singing competitions – sometimes a group is asked to sing in harmony together. It works well for some groups; others, not so much. In some groups, each of the singers wants to extend their 15 seconds of fame so badly, they sing over each other and refuse to yield the spotlight. The result is a musical mess that hurts to the ears.
Accept that there will be times when one aspect of your life takes priority over another. One area of your life will “sing lead” for a while and the others will support it and make it shine. You are the only person who can decide your priorities – your “lead singers,” if you will. Too many lead singers and you get a train wreck of a song. Too many backup singers and the music doesn’t really shine. The challenge is in making sure the right voices are singing lead at the right time.
The decision to earn your degree is one of the most important you can make, and if you’re reading this, you very likely already understand that. No matter where you are in life – whether you’re a working adult, a veteran, a military spouse or recent high school graduate, as you move forward in your educational pursuits and your professional career, you will be on the receiving end of all kinds of well-meaning advice. I hope the two pieces of advice I offered will help guide you toward achieving your goals. Best of luck to you as you begin the fall semester.
I’d love to hear from you. What kind of education or career advice has helped you? What do you wish you’d known when you started out?
Ms. Shelly has spent more than a decade working in higher education. She currently serves as executive vice president for Grantham Education Corporation. Ms. Shelly is passionate about changing lives – about making college education accessible and affordable to more people and preparing students and graduates for success.